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Russell Wangersky: Home reno shows deconstructed

Home renovations
Home renovations - 123RF Stock Photo

Russell Wangersky
Russell Wangersky

Now, I like a good home renovation television show as much as the next person.

Actually, I probably like it more than most — first, because I enjoy fixing things, and like watching the process.

Second, because there’s a point, it seems, in every televised renovation where absolutely everything is going wrong, and costs are mounting.

I might be the only person in television-land cheering for the discovery of legions of carpenter ants or the suddenly-failing septic tank, but I love it because I’ve lived through both and the schadenfreude is exquisite.

There’s a part of me that practically jumps for joy when the wallboard comes down in the latest house being renovated, and the contractor gravely intones, “Didn’t have this in the budget. By the looks of this mould, that sewer pipe’s been leaking under the floors for years.”

You can see why the housing industry loves the genre, too: everyone looking around for their (I hate, hate, hate this term) “forever home,” everyone being promised the absolute best features. “Of course, if you want the master bath shower stall to have four rain shower heads and Italian marble hand-cut tiles, we can do that. We may have to install an additional water heater…”

Conspicuous consumption is the name of the game.

(One offshoot of the typical renovation show? Contractors can tell you there are now people out there who think that if their contractors were any good, a kitchen or bathroom remodel would be done in an hour — because that’s how long it took on television.)

But there are a few things that bother me about the genre tremendously.

One is that everyone is expected to push their budgets to the max and often beyond: if I’ve got an absolutely maximum amount of money for a job, I want to come in as far under that number as possible. Overshooting it “by just a bit” isn’t a win, it’s financially irresponsible. Telling viewers who might be planning their own work that it’s perfectly reasonable to spend $90,000 of their $70,000 budget is a horrible — and oft-repeated — message.

But there’s more. I’m also always troubled about how the past owners must feel, seeing their homes — places they lived, loved, perhaps raised children — being derided as ugly or dated. But worse: the absolute glee that the new owners take smashing kitchen cupboards, built-in shelving units, interior doors and other fixtures with sledgehammers during the obligatory demolition portion of every show.

The sheer glee involved in wrecking what was once someone’s fondly remembered wood-panelled study may be a cathartic start for the new owners, but it’s also an abrupt end to a period of someone else’s life.

And while we’re on smashing, there’s something else. I understand we are living in a disposable culture, where today’s new kitchen cabinets are tomorrow’s dumpster-food. But it doesn’t have to be that way; interior doors, cabinets, old appliances and a whole host of other materials are clearly reusable, even if they aren’t up to the standard of those who can afford better.

Seeing perfectly good floors destroyed and lumber tossed away as trash is almost painful to me.

Some shows do make an effort to save, reuse and recycle, even if the recycling is as simple as putting things out on the curb to be free-cycled.

And if you’re redoing your kitchen, what leaves less damage? Unscrewing the cabinets from the wall and taking them out the front door, or smashing them down and ripping the anchoring screws out of the wallboard and studs behind them?

It makes great TV.

It also makes very little sense.

Russell Wangersky’s column appears in 39 SaltWire newspapers and websites in Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at — Twitter: @wangersky

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